business should lead government in east african integration


Entebbe from newvision.co.ug
Photo from http://www.newvision.co.ug

HEADING out to a regional meeting in Arusha last week to discuss the importance of business over politics regardless of how related the two realms are, I sweltered in the warm air of Entebbe International Airport and wondered – as usual – why it was so hot inside the terminal building.

I always refer to this as a ‘phenomenon’ because dictionaries define the word as, variously, “a remarkable person, thing, or event” and “a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question”.

You would think that the Departure Lounge of an International Airport in a tropical country would be fitted out with functional air conditioning but the person in charge of this has been unconvinced for a while. I say unconvinced because there are some six-foot high air conditioning machines standing on the floor but they don’t get switched on.

We will return to this shortly – but at another airport.

Normally, by the time you are at the Departure Gates you will have spent time juggling toy cups in the one eatery at the airport, while trying not to buy the grossly overpriced food prepared by people whose interest in the word ‘gourmet’ cannot possibly go beyond how to score it in Scrabble.

It is confounding. The very best airports in the world, the ones that enjoy visitor numbers and positive reviews in the millions and hence boost their economies, deliberately do the opposite of this.

And they do not necessarily use government monies – inviting ten restaurant chains to set up outlets there with sensible, tasty, properly priced food seems to be easy. Plugging in air conditioning machines and fans even more easy.

During our meetings in Arusha, I didn’t broach the topic directly but most of our discussion was around how to integrate business into regional integration and how handy organisations like the East African Business Council could be in doing this.

We said all the right things – including how we would “foster sustained economic growth and prosperity in the region” and “promote the interests of the EAC business community” plus “create new business opportunities” while “enhancing global competitiveness of EAC businesses”…

On our way out through Kilimanjaro Airport I followed the directional signs to the airport restaurant and found myself on the top (first) floor, quite alone. The three tables present seemed to have been procured from someone’s 1980s dining room, so I made myself at home.

Twenty minutes later I discovered there was no interest in me or the potential outflow of cash from my wallet and laptop bag. I didn’t feel disrespected, but asked for help when two cleaners turned up nearby.

One sacrificed her precious time and sent me downstairs using halting speech while her body language sent me further away in a manner I can’t repeat in polite society.

At the cafe downstairs a waitress eventually walked over to us, most likely because we made noises in her direction, and sullenly agreed to take our orders but only if we paid in advance since their electronic systems were in limbo.

We forced her to take our money and sat back to wait for the meals as ordered. Some time later, an Asian couple walked in and took a table behind us. As the gentleman walked past us towards our sullen waitress, she hailed out a jolly: “Hi!”

I was alarmed, and turned back sharply in case she was suffering a medical emergency. My colleague, Jim Mwine Kabeho, was also quite taken aback. Our jaws dropped to the ground as we watched her miraculous transformation.

She engaged the Asian man as if they were long lost friends, offering various suggestions for the couple’s meals (she had told us: “You can have, like, Burgers but with no chips. Potatoes are finished.”) and lighting up the area with a wide smile.

The Asian wife walked up and asked her husband, “What is the woman saying?” in a manner I considered rude but who was I to protest?

Completing our dismal meal was quite an ordeal, as we had to keep asking for condiments that she brought us one by one, slapping them onto the table as if to ward us off in the future.

Eventually we left her station and went to the Departure Gate where, once again, the air conditioning phenomenon returned.

We were sweating within minutes. The two of us had chosen a spot right next to the six-foot high air conditioning units but they were simply not switched on.

Jim gave way after a while and walked past paying passengers fanning themselves with newspapers and baseball caps, till he got to the Security personnel – the only staff in view – to demand that the situation be fixed.

He was prepared for a difficult but heated discussion and stood at full height in case it escalated into a fight.

“Eh?” asked the young security officer, “Yours is not on?”

And that’s when Jim noticed that it was much cooler in that area where they make you take off your belts and shoes and unpack your underwear because the scanner saw something in your suitcase.

The security chap walked across the room and flicked a switch, then returned to give Jim a thumbs-up.

Ten minutes later, the room had cooled down.

Is that what’s missing at Entebbe Airport? Someone to flick a switch so the air conditioning can start running? Where are the switches for the improved restaurant facilities? And the ones to increase the number of sockets so we can plug in devices as we await flights?

Why are these things off, anyway?

a random weekend episode with a wheel spanner in Hoima


Wheel Nut

IF you’re having a mildly bad time on any given day, call my Dad to give you a recount of any ordinary episode in his life upcountry.

Like his Saturday a couple of weekends ago, in Hoima, when he set off for an extremely important family event (we should all have been there but life being what it is, we were not) and had ordered life to ensure respectability all through.

The event was slated to begin at 1000hrs so he was in Hoima town by 0930hrs, but stopped to top up his fuel tank at the biggest fuel station there – a prudent move because the truck he was driving had been in a garage for many months and this was its maiden trip on discharge. As such, a few things were not working fine, including the fuel gauge.

Being a strict Accountant, and even more old school than myself, he kept count of the litres therein and calculated the mileage (not kilometres) mentally all the way but tended to avoid taking unnecessary risks.

As the fueling process came to an end, a fellow nearby pointed out that a tyre needed changing.

He was right.

Changing a tyre, for a man of my father’s age, experience, and intelligence, would take just a few minutes. He taught me how to do this at an early age, hence my predilection for Land Rovers over snazzy, shiny cars, even though there are Landys that fit that bill.

“Fair enough,” said the old man, suspecting correctly that the months of garage admission had probably stripped the car of essential tools.

Confirming that the unauthorised property allocation had taken place, he asked the garage fellows to oblige.

They readily agreed and shortly thereafter another fellow approached the car with the attitude of someone providing the relevant tools.

In one hand he held a car jack, the type that we used to have many years ago and still exists quite obviously in many places here. In the other hand – nothing.

“Good,” said the old man, even throwing in a “Thank you” with a wry smile while asking for the rest of the kit.

“We don’t have other things,” they said.

At this point, we can only imagine the looks being exchanged in silence all round thereafter.

I have no idea what the fellows at the fuel station look like so I can’t work out how sheepish they appeared but I know full well what my father’s facial expression was right there and then – running from irritation through incredulous and to that one where he was straining not to slap someone.

Surely, at a fuel station such as this in the major town of an oil-producing region in a country on the brink of middle-income status, this couldn’t be happening in 2018?!

It was.

Not all was lost, however; as one shamefaced fellow suggested that the old man go over to another fuel station within the town that might likely have the requisite tools.

Time check: 1000hrs.

He was late for his event.

Either way, at this point he needed to actually fix this tyre situation otherwise he would be doing this all over again in the evening at an even more remote point.

He drove over at a respectable speed and presented his problem to a fresh set of fellows at the second fuel station. They understood it well.

One fellow shuttled off and returned a couple of minutes later with a wheel spanner.

The old man took it up happily and reached out for the other pieces of the puzzle. He was not ready for the consistency of the second hand offering – nothing.

He asked where the rest of the tools required for this operation were.

“Haaa…” replied the fellow.

If you don’t know that ‘Haaa’, I’ll try to make it clear: This is where a guy says, “Ha” and keeps the “aaa” part going a bit longer while tilting his head a little bit and keeping his mouth open for a bit longer yet.

In English, it means: “I’m afraid I am speechless at your request and cannot express how screwed you are, at this point in time.”

My old man, holding up the wheel spanner, insisted on the full version. Because he is not aware of candid camera television, he had no false hopes that the comedy would end soon. And his age bracket cannot spontaneously shout out appropriate phrases like: “WTF?!?!”

The wretched fuel station fellow, nevertheless, explained that whereas they had the tool as presented, they were not in possession of a car jack to raise the motor vehicle and allow things to flow smoothly as they should.

On one side, a rather stern non-plussed look was aimed at the fellow wielding a wheel spanner. On the other side, the fellow sent back an innocent look of earnest bewilderment over the vehemence in the face of helpfulness.

A painful exchange ensued, kept barely civil by the 70 years’ experience of similarly frustrating comedy that my old man has accumulated.

Eventually, another chap with more authority showed up and said he had a solution but that it was available from a mechanic based elsewhere but quite close.

“How long will this take?” my old man asked, skeptically.

“He will be here soon…”

My old man protested the ‘soon’, but the chaps insisted it was genuine and that they believed the word to mean “in a short time to come”.

Unconvinced, the old man proposed that he take their tool over to the first fuel station where he was certain there was another piece that would provide a solution to the problem. They did not know the proverb, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” or any variant of it involving an unidentified mechanic possibly being ‘nearby’ at an undisclosed location.

They counter-insisted that their unidentified mechanic friend at the undisclosed location ‘nearby’ would be there within the indeterminate period of time they defined as ‘soon’ and even offered the old man a seat.

“But how long is this ‘soon’?” he asked, weakening and losing that small but significant battle.

“Ten minutes,” they said, with that confidence that you normally recognise after about ten minutes to be basic bollocks. Basic bollocks designed to shut you up.

It worked.

He took his seat and, in that warm, slow-moving heat, he leaned back.

Big mistake. He woke up thirty five minutes later with a jolt – probably dreaming about tyre-changing tools in the after-life complaining about being separated so illogically.

The rest of the fuel station operations were running as normal in full swing, without the tool he required and any care for his problem and presence.

Aghast, he quickly tracked down the fellow with the wheel spanner he required, and the one who had promised an unidentified mechanic was on his way with a jack.

“Haaa…”

Patience was of paramount importance here.

“The man hasn’t come. It seems he doesn’t have one,” said the chaps, with confidence.

The old man’s temperature rose, not because of the climate around him.

“Enough!” he declared, “I am taking this spanner with me to the other fuel station. I will bring it back when I am done!”

Their ability to resist had been greatly diminished but they stated their reluctance for the record, from a safe distance, and waved him on.

He sped over to the first fuel station, and impressed them with his possession of the part they didn’t have but that was essential for use with the one that they DID possess.

Eager to be done with the entertainment, he supervised the work closely. Ten minutes in, they still hadn’t managed to make a single wheel nut budge.

My old man realised that the pneumatic wheel spanner at the City Tyres bay in Kampala had tightened the nuts so much so that the raw strength and enthusiasm of these particular Banyoro offered little hope.

But they were optimistic, as usual, and called upon their ancestral strength, ingenuity, and experience. You may know that the practice, in such cases, is for the person faced with tight nuts to take up a thick metallic pipe and introduce it into the equation for greater leverage.

They did so, making the wheel spanner set longer and allowing for the solution as follows: rather than using the arm and shoulder muscles to move the wheel nuts the men took to the task by jumping up and down onto the end of the pipe inserted into the wheel spanner.

Twice.

Then the wheel spanner snapped.
Snap

Into two pieces.

The fellow who had been hopping up and down onto the pipe fell to the ground, a short distance away from the piece that had broken off the wheel spanner, and just metres below my old man’s priceless look of disbelief. Nobody laughed.

“Haaaa,” said one fellow close by.

If you don’t know that ‘Haaaa’, I’ll try to make it clear: This one sounds much like ‘Haaa’ but with a slightly longer delivery and less of the head tilting.

In English it means: “This unexpected turn of events is quite unfortunate but I can’t be blamed for it on my own and, therefore, will not offer an apology right away. Nevertheless, suffice to note that we are, at this point in time, screwed.”

Time check: 1300hrs.

Attending the event had become a remote possibility by now. Plus, the tyre was actually flat.

The old man stopped communication with the fellows around him and gave the matter some thought. Five minutes away there was a shop that sold tools. These tools included a wheel spanner.

Fifteen minutes later he was back with a new wheel spanner and a resolve not to accept any further nonsense.

Thirty minutes after that he was handing over the new wheel spanner to the flummoxed fellows at the second fuel station, along with a lecture about their need to be more sensibly equipped to provide the services expected of them.

Time check: 1500hrs.

He got to the event thirty minutes later to find it hadn’t started on time either, by luck and providence. He was just in time for a most crucial part of the ceremony, and didn’t have to explain why he was so damn late.

One thing’s for sure: he will never drive into a fuel station again and assume ANYTHING will go as planned thereafter.

heed the call of the peacock!


IMG-8838

A FEW WEEKS ago as I arrived at the Pearl of Africa Hotel for the launch of ‘The Call Of The Peacock‘, I noted how gentle and professional the Special Forces Command officials were as they guided us into the celebration room.

They were markedly different from the soldiers I grew up dodging, and from the parking lot to the very entrance to the ballroom I kept thinking of the term ‘Customer Care’ and musing at how it could now be used in reference to some of the toughest soldiers on the Continent.

At the entrance, I burst into a laugh when a plainclothes officer politely asked, “Is Madame not coming?” as he inspected my card.

He knew neither “Madame” nor myself, since the card didn’t bear our actual names. But he was quite polite.

These were small signs of how things have changed in Uganda since the days in which Mahendra Mehta was born, or when his father first came to East Africa.

The bigger sign was the book launch itself. The car I drove into the hotel had five books in it – Trevor Noah’s ‘Born A Crime‘, Karen Bugingo’s ‘My Name Is Life‘, Rakesh Wahi’s ‘Be A Lion‘, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s ‘Kintu‘ and Rita Kenkwanzi’s ‘Kamwe, Kamwe, Nigwo Muganda…and other lessons from my father‘.

Three of those five books were Ugandan (I have claimed Karen because Rwanda and Uganda blah blah blah) so three out of five books were from home. Plus, it feels to me at if every week we attend or read or tweet about a book launch by a Ugandan.

That feeling makes me happy but is also unsettling a small personal challenge I created last year. See, on doing up my small home office or study space, I had a nice, solid bookshelf installed on the wall at a height designed to inspire me to fill it without braining myself often in excitement at any piece of literature.

One section of the bookshelf has been reserved for population with only books written by Ugandans or, I later decided, about Uganda.

I knew that wouldn’t be easy but I’ve been encouraging all the remarkable people I meet regardless of their vastness of age and breadth of experience to write books – swiftly brushing away any counter suggestions that I go first.

Waiting for the President to arrive and officiate at the launch, we got the opportunity to buy up our own copies and pester Mahendra Mehta to autograph them – which he graciously did.

Two gentlemen at my table told us that Mehta’s father, Nanji Kalidas Mehta, had written a book of his own about his life in Africa and India – ‘Dream Half Expressed: An Autobiography‘ – that inspired many to venture out and chase their dreams. The fellow enthusing about it said how the older Mehta fell in love with that Lugazi hill on his travels when he first saw it and swore he would one day buy it up and build a house there.

Mahendra’s book, as I read it right there in the ballroom, started for me at that very spot – the hill, the house, and the orderliness and beauty of the peacocks he brought there from Nairobi.

It is difficult to put ‘The Call Of The Peacock’ down if you are sensible. I only did so that night to walk round a little bit and was pleased to find, at the table next to Mahendra, Manu Chandaria – founder of Kenya-based Chandaria Industries.

We met in March this year when he graced the East African Business Council Anniversary ceremonies and spent the day with us at higher energy levels than most even though he was ill. He had just turned 89 and chided the rest of us for being so sedentary compared to him – which he called “the problem in East Africa”.

Age formed a large part of our discussion at the table after I read the part in the book where old man Mehta left India at age thirteen (13) and set sail for Africa, leaving behind a young wife.

The fact that a 13-year old could board a ship for another continent entirely, leave alone the idea that he had already started a family, made me resolve to buy each of my children a personal copy of this book so it would be easier for them to Uber across this city. When I told the family that my sixteen-year old was taking a job serving at a Cafe I met with protests.

Worse, I even have peers who can’t get onto a boda-boda round Kampala, they are so damn spoilt and lazy and complacent.

Mehta, however, made it across the ocean in a simple dhow and hopped from country to country till he got to Lugazi. Reading about his progress and hard work translates into the hard evidence we see in his sugar factory and other investments.

It makes sense because genuine, long-lasting wealth and success simply don’t happen overnight – and that’s another reason my children are each getting a copy of this book.

Our EmCee of the night, Patrick Zikusooka, was Senior General Manager with the Mehta Group where he has worked for 44 years – as long as I have been alive, and yet still serving steadfast in a manner many of our youth cannot possibly contemplate!

The celebrated publisher Ashok Chopra, at the event, described the book well as “immensely educative, informative and entertaining.”

Those three ingredients created an emotional recipe to pass on to generations to come regardless of race and origin. By Page 33, read that evening at the launch event itself, I was planning to bequeath copies to my as-yet-unborn grandchildren.

Apparently Mehta refused editorial guidance and structure because he insisted that this was HIS story and detailed HIS memoirs! Mind you, the book design and binding told its own story!

His son, when he took to the podium and reflected a young yet strikingly similar elderly figure of his father’s, wondered if the tradition of story telling his grandfather and father before him would continue in this age of television, internet and social media.

The books of the old men, he said, laid down the value foundations of their family – and that challenge faced him but, more importantly, face all of us in Uganda!

Reading this book reminded me why I like the culture of the Indians so much.

Jay, as he spoke, proved that even he had a book within him ready to be written, and brought to life at an hour respectfully removed from that of his father’s. He might not have known it, that night, but it was there in his speech just as it was suggested in the words of his grandfather and his father before him.

He expressed the same doubts about his fathers love for him that his own father wrote about HIS father before him, and made those of us who had arrived at that page in the book shake our heads.

President Museveni, when Jay recited excerpts from the book from memories of the 1980s, smiled widely and nodded his head as he recalled the very same events – and later in his speech re-affirmed them even though he hadn’t yet read the book.

The Call of the Peacock‘ is written evidence that Mahendra Mehta made a personal pledge to Uganda because of the kindness and trust of Ugandans – represented by the people selling vegetables by the roadside along Jinja Road who refused to take his money in spite of their destitution and misery, understanding that return of the Mehta’s would rebuild the economy.

THAT is the spirit of UGANDA! In a live sense from his actions and writings, WE are the Peacocks he speaks of, and we should be as proud of ourselves as Peacocks are of their feathers!

Nanjibhai Kalidas Mehta first came to Uganda in 1904 – earlier than some of our own grandfathers – and Mahendra Mehta has lived here 65 years. When Mahendra told the story of how he first met the Museveni’s at Nairobi airport by pestering them, the President and First Lady laughed at the memory.

From his story that night it was obvious that this old man had been keenly paying attention to politics and governance in Uganda and following closely everything that was being said by serious political leadership. He is one of those who uses political declarations to make wise business decisions – which is different from basing business on politics.

He only rejuvenated the Mehta Sugar Factory on January 25, 1988 after the government – particularly President Museveni himself as the supremo at the time – had promised there would be no bureaucratic delays.

Going back to age, Mahendra Mehta was barely in his twenties when he began to operate as a successful businessman – which should make us all think twice before we type out our next WhatsApp message, Facebook post or Tweet.

Read his book, everyone and think again about what YOU are doing about your life TODAY in relative peace, freedom and comfort.

That night, when the old man launched the US$1million Mehta Foundation focussing on disabilities and children’s health, we applauded with respect. Haters can talk, but the stories in the book and the actions of his father followed a logical flow to build up to this.

President Museveni launched the book with his usual conviviality tempered with Pan-African ideology and emphasizing the respect that many lack when they approach Indo-African relations.

“I found Indians at a Temple in London mourning about Amin kicking them out of Uganda and I told them to stop mourning because Amin only killed three (3) Asians and about 500,000 Ugandans!” he said.

“I also joked with them that the NRA/M went to the bush to fight but the only bush the Indians knew was Shepherd’s Bush!” he quipped, sending the room into the disarray we needed to get out of the deeply emotional state that Mahendra Mehta’s family story had evoked in all our minds.

The link between the Mehta’s and Uganda’s revolution is as clear in this book as it was in Museveni’s speech the night of its launch, as he recounted personal stories and confessed his appreciation of Mrs. Mehta’s bagiya.

At our table we laughed when one of us bumped into Henry Okello Oryem, Minister and Member of Parliament, who had found mention of his father in the book side-splitting. One time, when Mahendra had left the country for India during the unstable days of the 1980s, he sent his wife back home to look after things here. The day after she arrived a Colonel arrived with a note requesting her presence before General Tito Lutwa Okello himself.

She was suitably alarmed and fled the country then called her husband to complain about sending her into the lion’s den. He laughed. The General, he explained, was his friend and only seeking to make her comfortable at his behest.

The now-departed General’s son found this mirthful as his memories of his father were of the same kindly nature rather than the fearful reputation that caused Mrs. Mehta to flee in such fear.

This book TELLS one, REMINDS one, and TEACHES of A LOT!

Read it.

For Uganda.

It is ‘The Call Of The Peacock‘.

here are some of the opportunities that were in this year’s State of the Nation address #EconomicsUG


Museveni State of the Nation from www.dispatch.ug.jpg
Photo from http://www.dispatch.ug

OVER the years, I’ve picked up this highly useful fact from various successful Asian and Asian-Ugandan businessmen operating happily in Uganda: EVERY time there is a political or national event, they pay close attention to what the speech-makers are saying.

When it’s the President, they pay extra-special heed to the details of what he says and they thereafter follow up by making additional inquiries and investigations with the relevant offices.

One of them told me this as he was explaining why his father had invested in the first level of successful industry back in 1988, after two years of closely following this new NRM/A government all the way from London, in the United Kingdom. The young man himself was showing me round an investment project of his own that had built on his father’s success but fed off the plans the government kept announcing and dropping hints at.

That’s why, after last year’s End of Year address by the President to the Republic of Uganda, I wrote this – https://skaheru.com/2018/01/06/aligning-our-personal-objectives-with-our-national-ones/.

This week we listened to President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni delivering another State of the Nation address – Uganda’s Chief Executive Officer’s report to the Annual General Meeting of shareholders.

I listened carefully to the event, paying attention to possible opportunities that even the smallest-scale businessman, entrepreneur or speculator could take advantage of and plan for.

They stand out quite well – paragraph by paragraph – #OpportunityUG – and just in case you haven’t read it or seen them, here are the ones I suspect might be useful:

“…we now have tarmac roads to almost all the corners of Uganda: Nimule; Oraba; Musingo; Vurra; Lwakhakha soon; Malaba; Busia; Busuunga, beyond Bundibugyo; Mpondwe; Mutukula; Muroongo on the Kagyera river; Mirama hill; Katuna; Cyanika and Bunagana.  Radiating from Kampala, tarmac roads are now connecting all those points. The distance between Cyanika and Oraba is 1,048Kms (655miles), all of it connected by a tarmac road, from Kisoro district to Koboko…”

When a road is built with tarmac, the value of the land adjacent and in the towns that it connects tends to rise. If you check for the most recently built road you might find some land available either for sale or lease and snatch it up before its value rises.

Besides that, there are additional opportunities along such roads – such as establishing rest-stops, motels, shopping centres, fuel stations, and other enterprises that will take advantage of the increased traffic.

“farmers will use more irrigation. In the coming financial year, the Government will work on the following irrigation schemes using the government budget:

  • Doho phase II in Butalejja district;
  • Mubuku phase II in Kasese district;
  • Wadelai in Nebbi district;
  • Tochi in Oyam district;
  • Ngenge in Oyam district;
  • Atari (Bulambuli and Kween);
  • Katete in Kanungu district;
  • Kawumu in Luwero district;
  • Amagoro (Tororo district);
  • Nabigaga (Kamuli district);
  • Rwimi (Kasese and Kabarole district);
  • Nyimur (Lamwo);
  • Musamya (Kayunga);
  • Kibimba (Gomba);
  • Kabuyanda (Isingiro);
  • Matanda (Isingiro); and
  • Igogero-Naigombwa (Iganga and Bugiri).

In order to roll-out a global irrigation system for the whole country, we are encouraging industrialists to set up assembly or manufacturing plants for solar-powered water pumps. Some of these pumps and water conveyance systems, will be used in government funded irrigation schemes. Others, however, will be used by the farmers at their own cost. I encourage all the capable farmers to, at their own cost, go  into irrigation.

We shouldn’t need the President himself to “encourage capable farmers” to go into irrigation. If you were planning to go into farming or agriculture, go and check where these irrigation projects are and set up your own project right there. Check what the application processes are and go for those!

But besides the irrigation project itself, check what elements go into the irrigation and solar-powered water pump manufacturing and see if you can supply or manufacture one of those components.

At the very least, if you don’t plan to invest, go and find a quick course to do in irrigation and solar-powered systems so that when these factories set up here you are marginally more marketable than the person next to you.

“With the building of our phosphate fertilizer plant in Tororo, Uganda, which at 2.5kgs per hectare has one of the lowest rates of fertilizer use, will now stir itself up to use more fertilizers. We are looking for an additional investor to blend the phosphates with nitrogen and potassium in order to formulate NPK (Nitrogen, phosphates and potassium). With the use of NPK, production will go up by 30%.  With higher rates of agricultural growth, the overall rate of growth will go up.”

Fertilisers are going to be taken seriously next year? First of all, the factory in question is in Tororo – what will the logistics be like? Normally transport goes from Tororo to Kampala and then from there to the rest of the country – so how about investing in a route that goes from Tororo direct to Gulu via Lira and capturing all the farmers that side?

Also, there must be an opportunity in this fertiliser trade that you can explore by even studying mixes and becoming an expert or consultant in its application and use – therefore turning all the farmers seeking fertilisers into your direct clients while also taking on the Fertiliser Plant itself.

I would like to single-out the sector of construction.  This grew by 12.5% annually. This is not surprising given the respective efforts of the government and the private sector in the areas of road and houses construction.”

The construction sector is growing by 12.5% annually? What will happen this coming year? Can we go for something there as well? Even if it’s not investing in hardware, is there a component that we can replace with something cheaper and yet equally efficient? What about the real estate brokers dealing in this growing sector – can we find better methods and corner the market?

The opportunities in construction are myriad, as it were, mushrooming each day the way apartment blocks do. Think of gardening and landscaping, and interior decoration, and auxiliary products and services.

If you have no investment capital to set up something big, how about teaming up with some pals and forming a cleaning service targeting just one set of these apartment blocks that keep cropping up…? That list goes on and on and on.

“I told you how rich Ugandans and other Africans are, already. In the case of Uganda, we spend about US dollars 7 billion a year in terms of imports. Importing what? Importing the shoes, clothes, carpets, textiles, furniture units, pharmaceuticals, electronic equipments, perfumes, soaps, wines, cars, pikipikis (motorcycles), etc etc…

We import so much? How about finding some of these items and their value, then picking up local ones and improving their quality even post-manufacture and then doing some import replacement?

That might now work for the perfumes, but even nonsense like second-hand clothing could provide an opportunity. A t-shirt with the Macdonalds logo on it could be spruced up with some kitenge bits to replace Maconalds and go for a neat margin well over and above the opened-bale price.

4,525 girls have already been assisted to engage in: knitting, shoe-making, weaving, tailoring, bakery and embroidery, while 6 groups have been assisted in furniture-making and 10 in welding.

Great opportunity there! Where are all these girls? Are they employed somewhere and each running their own business? If not, how about getting the list of the very best of them and investing in an outfit that will employ their services, skills and talents?

A handful of these girls could actually implement that little idea above of getting second-hand t-shirts and refitting them so they are fresh, Ugandan designs.

They even studied baking? If you take the marketing component and find a friend to handle packaging, you can be rolling in sweet money within a very short time of embarking on a project with these girls!

In the coming days, the Minister of Finance will announce the financial support we intend to give to the groups that wish to join the manufacturing in the form of the enhanced micro-finance efforts and the Innovation in addition to the Women Fund, the Youth Fund and Operation Wealth Creation Fund.

The ‘coming days’ that H.E. the President was referring to is the June 14 Reading of the National Budget.

If you don’t pay attention as THAT is being presented, and only focus on political statements (by yourself as well as by the politicians) please don’t blame anyone for your despondency thereafter.

non-Ugandans are out here loving uganda more than YOU


A while back I spotted a little boy vending colourful cloth rucksacks and shoulder bags in the environs of Kkungu, in Kira District and I bought one up with glee. I used it so hard that it got stolen at the Village Mall in Bugolobi but not before I had spread the word about his grandmother Rose Nakitto, who makes the bags (she was on 0777 460 854).

In the same breath I mentioned another discovery – a little shop called Ricci Everyday operating out of Prunes Cafe on Wampewo Avenue.

Ricci Everyday sells the same type of Kitenge or ‘African cloth’ bags of varying styles and quality levels, at vastly different prices. Nakitto’s were going for about Ushs35,000 a bag while Ricci Everyday sold theirs ranging from Ushs200,000 to more than Ushs1million!

Two weeks ago I chanced upon an article online about Ricci Everyday in Japan, and my heart applauded them. This outfit had taken Uganda to the first world whole sale and was bringing money here to pay the people, presumably women, who do the actual work stitching the bags!

And they’ve been doing so for YEARS! In 2016 they exhibited these Ugandan-made bags at a premier fashion show in London and have done so consistently ever since.

Three weeks ago the Ricci Everyday proprieter, Chizu Nakamoto, was featured in the Business section of The Japan Times in a story titled, “Startup’s colorful Ugandan bags take off in Japan, lifting the women who make them”. In Japan the popular Akello bag goes for about US$93 – and the entire range is doing extremely well.

I haven’t yet stopped Chizu or her mother, Ritsue, to thank them for the great work they are doing for this country. Even when I do, my word of appreciation won’t be as valuable as a medal from a national authority or some big incentive from the Uganda Export Promotion Board, Uganda Investment Authority or one of our Ministries of Trade, Investment and so on and so forth.

I was full of wist over this many days later when an email came to me promoting a Mother’s Day online purchase.

The day I signed up for updates from ‘Rose & Fitzgerald (Est. 2013)’ has long faded out of my memory, so when I saw their offer I had to stop and think.

“Win the Ultimate Mother’s Day Ethical Gift Pack – valued at more than US$1,000!” read the banner.

I love my mother more than US$1,000 but I don’t normally have that amount of money on hand to prove the point, so who were these Rose & Fitzgerald who believed this kind of email warranted an exclamation mark?

Besides, I wondered, what kind of “Ethical Gift Pack” was this and how did it link to my beloved mother?

I read the email further, past the pretty images, and one word stood out: “Mugave”. One of the gifts was described as a “Mugave Geometric Bottle Stopper from Rose & Fitzgerald”.

This isn’t the one, but I found that they have made and sold many other such pieces in the years they have been in business:

Rose-Fitz-Design-02
Photo from: http://www.coolhunting.com/design/uganda-rose-fitzgerald-design

Those two are not Ugandan names but it was difficult to imagine that Mugave was a word in common use outside of Uganda.

So I headed to their base site and found that their main outfit is called ‘Thirty One Bits’ (www.31bits.com), offering many nice-looking items that I couldn’t recognise from my many years in Uganda.

So I went to read their story under ‘About Us’.

These three white women, from the photograph, included one Kallie Dovel who came to Uganda for a bit as a university student and went back with stories that blew her friends away.

“She met women who grew up in a war and had nothing. They were single moms with no education and no job, and they were our age. OUR AGE. Our lives couldn’t look more different,” they write.

And then, they continue writing with a perspective totally lacking among US – the Ugandans who live right here with and amongst our fellow Ugandans:

“The women may not have had an education, but their skills and resourcefulness were astounding. They were making incredible jewelry out of old posters. Kallie brought a box of jewelry back, and we fell in love instantly!”

These were Caucasian women from America who met Acholi women in Gulu and created an enterprise.

They sold out within a short time and voila! There a business was born selling small pieces of jewelry and decor at pops of anywhere from US$15 upwards of US$80.

The girls came to Uganda and spent time with six ladies developing products and living together in their homes as they built up Thirty One Bits. Today, they are in “hundreds of stores across the United States” and have endorsements from names such as Sophia Bush, Candace Cameron Bure, Jessica Alba, and magazines like Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle.

PLUS, they built an entrepreneurship training element into their business so that the ladies creating these jewelry and art pieces don’t rely on just being suppliers, but develop their own businesses.

The girls of Thirty One Bits have graduated 100 artisans over five years, says their website, who have started additional businesses doing poultry, tailoring, agriculture and “One woman even opened her very own restaurant, called none other than ’31 Bits’!”

Not only that – using this experience they found themselves doing the same in Indonesia (which is why I couldn’t recognise many of the items on their online store).

That Indonesia bit is what worries me now. If we don’t have more and more Chizu Nakamoto’s and Kallie Dovel’s coming in from Japan and the United States to discover highly creative and hard working women in Uganda like Rose Nakitto and those unnamed jewelry designers in Northern Uganda, are we ever going to have more superb, high quality products than the Indonesians filling up shelves in foreign countries?

Besides that, how many of us in our twenties (that’s how old Chizu and Kallie were when they started) and thirties and forties are out there creating businesses like this or, at the very least, supporting them by buying their products?

Sadly, not enough to change an entire economy just yet; even more sadly, so few that the Nakamoto’s and Dovel’s will deservedly continue standing out. Thankfully, they do so while putting quality Ugandan products on international shelves to great acclaim, and for that they will be greatly applauded.